Oh no, my freezer is out!

Food in freezer
Food in freezer

Freezer failure can happen at any time due to mechanical problems, power failures, or human error. Regardless of cause, freezer failure means the loss of all or part of a large investment in food, time and money.

When you discover that the freezer is not working, it is important to determine why it is no longer working. Has the door been left open? A blown fuse, a broken electrical circuit or an accidental disconnection? Is the freezer over packed or full of frost build up? Has there been a power failure or did the unit simply die? In any of these cases, normal operation should be restored as quickly as possible and the food checked for thawing.

If the freezer outage is due to a power outage you will want to do what you can to keep all the food from thawing. If the outage is not expected to be more than 12-24 hours, avoid opening the freezer and cover with blankets or quilts. If a longer outage is expected, the food should be moved to a locker or taken to a working freezer (friends and neighbors), if available. Move food as quickly as possible using insulated boxes or cooler chests. Purchased dry ice or packaged ice can be added to help keep the contents cold for a longer period. If dry ice is used, handle it carefully and get usable sizes. Don’t open the freezer again until you need to replace the dry ice or until the freezer is working again. (For more tips on using dry ice, see If Your Home Freezer Stops.) If the freezer is in need of a repair or has died, the same guidelines for moving food or adding dry ice may save the food until a repair person arrives or a new unit is purchased.

Once the freezer is working or is replaced, check to see if the contents are still completely frozen or partially frozen. It is possible to refreeze many foods that have completely thawed if you are absolutely certain that they have been kept at a temperature lower than 40°F for no longer than two days (about normal refrigerator temperature). Refreezing food must be done quickly. It is best to set the temperature control to the coldest setting and once the food is solid again, return the setting to maintain 0°F or lower. Since refreezing may affect the quality of the food, it is a good idea to mark the refrozen food and use it as quickly as possible.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation and Oregon State University have guidance on what to do with thawed foods. Some thawed foods can be re-frozen. However, the texture will not be as good. Other foods may need to be discarded.

  • Meat and Poultry: Re-freeze if the freezer temperature stays 40°F or below and if color and odor are good. Check each package, and discard any if signs of spoilage such as an off color or off odor are present. Discard any packages that are above 40°F (or at room temperature). Refrozen meat should be used within three to four weeks and cooked to 165°F before eating. The same is true for refrozen sausage, bacon and other processed meats. Refrozen meats will probably be drier than other frozen meat.
  • Vegetables: Be careful with blanched or cooked vegetables. Bacteria can multiply rapidly in them. It may be impossible to tell by their odor whether they have started to spoil. Re-freeze only if ice crystals are still present or if the freezer temperature is 40°F or below. Vegetables should be immediately refrozen if they still have ice crystals. Discard any packages that show signs of spoilage or that have reached room temperature.
  • Fruits: Re-freeze if they show no signs of spoilage. Thawed fruits may be used in cooking or making jellies, jams, or preserves. Fruits survive thawing with the least damage to quality. However, fruits and fruit products are likely to ferment after they have thawed and been held at temperatures above 45°F. This doesn’t make them harmful, but it will change their flavor. They may be used in cooking or baking or for making jams, jellies and preserves.
  • Shellfish and Cooked Foods: Re-freeze only if ice crystals are still present or the freezer is 40°F or below. If the temperature is above 40°F, discard as bacteria multiply rapidly in these foods.
  • Ice Cream: If partially thawed, throw it out. The texture of ice cream is not acceptable after thawing. If its temperature rises above 40°F, it could be unsafe. The same is true for creamed foods and puddings.
  • Breads, Nuts, Doughnuts, Cookies and Cakes: These foods re-freeze better than most. They can be safely re-frozen if they show no signs of mold growth. Refreezing will likely result in some loss of moisture.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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66 thoughts on “Oh no, my freezer is out!

  1. Hi Shelley, thank you for contacting AnswerLine. It would seem that your freezer is not freezing efficiently. I would keep a close eye on it. While I am not a freezer expert, I’ve had some personal experience with the freezers in my life. Sometimes when a freezer behaves in this manner, it is the first warning that something more serious is about to happen. Other times, it is a simple matter of defrosting the freezer to remove the build up of frost or ice on the inside coils or cleaning the dirty outside coils to resolve the issue; either reduce the overall cooling capacity of the freezer. More serious issues are fans (evaporator and condenser) which circulate the air throughout the freezer or the start relay which powers the compressor; these issues need to be resolved promptly. Are you noticing that the freezer is running all of the time or that there are clicking noises? Freezer running all the time might mean that it is one of the fans that is not working properly. Clicking noises may be indicative of a relay issue. Hope these suggestions will be helpful and you will not lose any of your frozen food.

  2. Your comments were helpful when our freezer died last weekend and I have been questioning what I could save and cook up.

  3. Sharron, so sorry to learn of your dilemma. Without knowing details, the best resource is from FoodSafety.gov. Page down to Frozen Food and Power Outages: When to Save It and When to Throw It Out. If you don’t find the answers you need there, please respond again.

  4. Everything in my freezer is thawed out. I’ve had several weeks of frost covering meats but csnt get repairman for another month. Do I need a new refrigerator?

  5. Hi Barbara, I’m always so sorry to get these kind of messages. First and foremost, you need to get your freezer food to a freezer if it is still salvageable. If the frozen food no longer has ice crystals in it, it should be used immediately if it is still cold or pitched if no longer cold. Also make sure that your refrigerator is still keeping foods cold at the proper temperature. A new refrigerator may be in order. However, in the interim of waiting for a repair person, I can offer some suggestions of known causes for freezers to stop working.
    1) Make sure that ice build up is not keeping the door from sealing properly and that there is not a lot of ice build up in the freezer.
    2) Check the door seal by placing a dollar bill or a piece of paper between the seal and the freezer and pulling it out. If it pulls out easily, with little to no tension, your door is likely not sealing properly. A door lid that doesn’t seal properly can change the temperature of the freezer and cause frost build-up. — You mention frost building up on the meat.
    3) Make sure that the condenser coils are clean.
    4) Check the evaporator fan to determine if it is functioning properly. Did you notice that the freezer was running more than normal prior to the problem. It may have gone out. The same can be true of the compressor fan.
    5) Check the start relay on the compressor to make sure it is working. Did you heard a clicking sound prior? This is one indicator that it is not working. Is there a way to reset it?
    Lastly, sometimes a freezer simply freezes up especially when it has to work really hard. When this happens, one needs to defrost and let the freezer come to room temperature before restarting.

  6. Can’t get a repair for 5 days! Contents, at the moment, are still frozen – no access to dry ice etc. Should I stuff gaps with eg newspaper/ polythene please?

  7. Rosemary, so sorry for your dilemma. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed. I wouldn’t do anything that would create any kind of gap in the seal–I guess I”m not quite understanding your suggestion of ‘stuff gaps with eg newspaper/polythene.’ Keeping the room temperature where the freezer is located as cool as possible will also help. Blankets and quilts around the freezer may also help. However, with a 5 day wait, all of these measurers may not be enough. Is there someplace else you could take the contents temporarily? Locker, friend, family? Please read “Play It Safe With Food AFter a Power Outage” for guidance on what to save if the contents begin to thaw.

  8. My husband got us a 3 door commercial freezer which for the most part I enjoy having. It has glass doors and hold the half cow we got along with all the meat I get on sale for feeding a family of 5, almost 6. But the other day I guess I didn’t close the door all the way, it was cracked for a day and I didn’t notice. My husband noticed the next day that the meat on the top shelves were leaking blood. He closed the door and let me know. The problem is now I dont know what thawed all the way and what is still safe. He said the meat on the bottom wasn’t leaking and the cold says on the bottom. He is in HVAC and refrigeration. But he thinks that everything should still be safe to wear. Mainly because the though of a freezer that big with all the food in it going bad makes my stomach turn so it’s hard to throw out almost 3 freezers of food but I have 3 little ones at home and am pregnant. Of course the dairy and premade meals are out but is the meat on the bottom that doesn’t appear to have thawed completely safe?

  9. Hi Jamie, I am always so sorry to respond to food lost due to freezer doors open or power outages or any other reason that food is questionable. Since you are not able to determine if the food was still partially frozen or had ice crystals, there is a lot of uncertainty about what is safe and what is not. Please see Play It Safe With Food After A Power Outage by LSU. It may help you decide on what to do.

  10. Hi Josephine, I will assume that the sweet potatoes were cooked, cooled properly, frozen, thawed, reheated, and cooled properly a second time in answerling your question. If all of the above have been properly done so that there is not a food safety issue, the sweet potatoes may be frozen again with the understanding that every time the potatoes go through this process, the quality is reduced. Thanks for your question.

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